bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Bees, lasers and land mines

A story I first heard a few years ago about bees detecting land mines has resurfaced in Montana. (Here's a Wired story from 1999.)

While the bees can be trained to sniff out the mines by rewarding them with sugar solutions, it seems it's been very difficult to keep track of the bees — the show-stopper question as they've coined it.

But now a laser system is being used to detect the bees and to map the minefield:

“Whatever the laser beam hits, light scatters everywhere,” Shaw said. “Some of that light scatters back and is picked up by the telescope” next to the LIDAR. A computer program stores the images.

So the bees find the mines, the LIDAR tracks the bees and a deadly mine field can be mapped without anyone stepping onto the mine field. Humans would still have to go in to remove the mines, but their work would be safer and more efficient.
Some fine-tuning is still required to make a full-scale operation feasible. Jerry Bromenshenk, the UM professor at Montana who came up with the idea of using bees as detectors has established a company (Bee Alert Technologies) and is looking for $1.5 million investment capital. With funding, he claims, it could all be up-and-running in 18 months.


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